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Anatomy of a Smear

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On June 11, 85 Republican Congressmen sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder demanding he investigate alleged attempts to intimidate bloggers called SWAT-ing. This followed a similar letter sent to Holder on June 6 by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).

Those letters arose after a "blogblast" on May 25, an event in the blogosphere featuring between 150 and 200 Right Wing bloggers attacking a man named Brett Kimberlin, apparently because he's a thorn in their side. Leading the charge: Michelle Malkin and another blogger, Lee Stranahan.

By June 8, four reports of so-called "SWAT-ing" surfaced, one from Red State Editor Eric Erickson, two from right wing bloggers Pat Frey and Michael Stack -- and one from Kimberlin. Kimberlin is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to a conviction for any such event -- not just his. SWAT-ing is a false 911 report made from telephones whose numbers were masked, usually by using VoIP lines. VOIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol.

Erickson himself says he doesn't suspect Kimberlin of making the calls -- in his piece on the event, he describes it and then says he'd been writing about Kimberlin, leaving the reader to her own imagination. The posting led to a report on CNN in which he positively says he doesn't think Kimberlin made the calls. But the blogs and their comments pages insist otherwise.

The original blogosphere charge: Kimberlin is a dangerous, left-wing terrorist threatening right-wing bloggers for exercising their First Amendment rights. Yet the only substantiated claim they made is that while exercising his own First Amendment rights, Kimberlin had been mean to them; the rest was all about events in 1978. One such blogger claimed he feared Kimberlin so much that he and his family had fled to an undisclosed location from which he bravely continued the fight.

All in all, quite a lot of smoke from the blogosphere. Yet on examination, the entire hoo-hah seems made of whole cloth -- from all appearances, merely a way to hang a false meme of "left-wing terrorist" on Democrats of every stripe and, possibly, attack President Obama.

Choosing Kimberlin, a Washington area progressive activist, was a smart move for his attackers; having served 17 years for the "Speedway Bombings" near Indianapolis in 1978, and for a big pot bust, he's made for the part. Almost every blog post about him includes his 34-year-old mug shot.

On the other hand, he's been charged with no crimes since his release, spending his time running two activist organizations called the Justice Through Music Project (JTMP) and The Velvet Revolution. He was the subject of a book that calls him a con man, and a 2007 Time magazine piece that says he's a complex case.

Some people would say Kimberlin's done a lot of good since he got out of prison. He's a lawyer now, and as the Time piece details, he played a significant role in raising serious questions about the reliability of electronic voting machines, including proving they were easily hacked.

Many of the voting irregularities in Florida during the highly-controversial Bush/Gore presidential election, for instance, were linked to such machines. Similar allegations have been raised about Sen. Chambliss' unexpected victory over then-Sen. Max Cleland, a controversial campaign in which Sen Chambliss questioned the patriotism of Sen. Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam. Sen Chambliss never served thanks to student deferments and bad knees from playing football.

From what I can piece together, Mr. Kimberlin got in the Right's crosshairs with his July 4, 2010 letter to Maryland's Attorney General, Douglas F. Gansler, urging he prosecute James O'Keefe, Hannah Giles, and Andrew Breitbart over O'Keefe's infamous video attacks on ACORN, a community organizing group that collapsed in their wake.

He likewise did nothing to endear the Right by attacking Karl Rove, or, in the company of Common Cause, urging Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas be impeached for perjury. (Full disclosure: I worked with Kimberlin in that story.)

But in light of what followed the blogblast, Kimberlin seems to have been a mere stepping stone for the people behind it. On the heels of the June 11 Congressional letter demanding he investigate swatting, Attorney General Holder heard Sen. John Cornyn (R.-TX) join a Republican chorus demanding he resign over his handling of both the so-called "Fast and Furious" matter, and later charges of intelligence leaks from within the Obama administration.

With the two Congressional letters at its back, the Kimberlin affair, tiny as it is, is clearly something that can be magnified beyond recognition and thrown on the pile. So don't touch that dial.